OCEAN CITY – With the approval of the plans for a downtown recreation park and the expansion of the Ocean Bowl Skate Park by the Mayor and Council Tuesday, residents and visitors alike will soon be seeing improvements and enhancements to the bayside area between 3rd and 4th streets.
Tom Shuster, director of Recreation and Parks, came before the Mayor and Council on Tuesday, along with John Slater of Slater Associates, to present the master plan for the Downtown Recreation Complex (DRC) and for the expansion of the Ocean Bowl Skate Park.
Shuster explained that in the fiscal year 2007 budget funds were allocated for the design work for the DRC and for the skate park expansion. Wally Hollyday Designs of California was hired for the design work of the skate park, and Slater Associates created the rest of the master plan for the remaining park area. Both designs were completed this spring and were presented to the Recreation and Parks Commission on May 1 as the “Bayside Park Master Plan”.
On Tuesday morning, the Bayside Park Master Plan was presented once again to the Recreation and Parks Commission for review and later in the day also to the Mayor and Council for approval.
“It’s a great park with wonderful opportunities for Ocean City,” Slater began as he presented the master plan.
The goals of the plan include expanding the present skate park; merging the essentially separate east and west parks into one; maintaining parking; and slowing traffic along St. Louis Ave. between 3rd and 4th streets.
St. Louis Ave. is currently about 48 feet wide between the east and west sections of the park. It maintains two traffic lanes, two bicycle lanes, parallel parking and 25-feet of sidewalk. The plan calls for the road to be narrowed to 30 feet, eliminating parking and providing for a shorter walk across the road from one area of the park to the other. It will also provide for a calming of the traffic in that area.
Slater also presented aesthetic aspects of the park that will be added. The osprey nest sculpture will be moved to the bayside and is to provide shade in the shape of an osprey. Wooden rail fences will be added around the park to provide safety as well as provide and aesthetic appeal to the park.
“We wanted to pick up on the flavor of the entrance to the Boardwalk,” Slater said, explaining that the architecture of the sign at the Boardwalk entrance will be reflected in the park. He also added that designers aimed to pick up on the neighboring architecture to help soften the view of the skate park along St. Louis Ave.
Although the skate park will be undergoing expansion, the basketball courts will be losing ground. The basketball courts, currently 84 feet, are to be shortened to 74 feet. Slater explained that the shortened courts would allow for landscaping and walking space between the exterior skate park wall and the basketball courts.
Mayor Rick Meehan expressed concern over shortening of the courts, but Shuster said they would still maintain frequent use and that upon construction, if there were room to extend the court they would.
To achieve the goal of connecting the two sections of the park, a curvilinear pathway will traverse the entirety of the park with a raised crosswalk across St. Louis Ave. The raised crosswalk will also work to calm the traffic in that area.
Further additions to the park include a gazebo and a green space in the center of the skate park. Slater also pointed out that although parking would be lost along St. Louis Ave., pull-in spots would be increased along the sides of the park so that only two overall parking spaces would be lost.
Meehan posed the question of a potential dog park in the area. Shuster explained that although there would be no designated off-leash area as in the new 94th Street dog park, dogs would be allowed in the park. He added that the 94th Street dog park was slightly less than one acre and that there would be no room for a dog park in the new downtown park.
Councilwoman Nancy Howard described the proposed master plan as a “beautiful plan”. She particularly praised the proposal to narrow the streets along St. Louis Ave., an idea that she would like to see all over town.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas also supported the street narrowing. “I think that area needs some calming,” she said of the traffic.
Earlier Tuesday, the Recreation and Parks Commission had agreed on two changes to the master plan. Shuster presented these ideas to the council at the work session.
The first idea was to proceed with the skate park expansion and phase one of the park at the same time instead of separately. The thought was that proceeding as one phase instead of in two separate phases would be more efficient and would allow for the construction to occur at the same time.
The second suggestion considered Worcester County’s underlying ownership of the land. The commission suggested that the council seek a written agreement from the County Commissioners for a long-term use of the properties for recreation.
The council agreed with both suggestions. Meehan added that a letter had previously been sent to the county to notify them of the plans.
Councilman Lloyd Martin said the county would likely agree to the agreement and that the expanded skate park would be beneficial to the town as well as to the entire county.
The council unanimously agreed to approve the master plans and proceed with the two suggestions.